Bliss N Eso: 'Dyslexia’s A Gift'
Treating sight and sound with equal measures of respect, Sydney hip-hop collective, Bliss N Eso, is as much a visual entity as it is a sonic one.
Surprisingly, Jonathan Notley (aka MC Bliss), who formed the group in 2000 with Max McKinnon (MC Esoterik) and Tarik Ejjamai (DJ Izm), attributes such a multi-sensory approach to the trio’s lyric-based craft to his own dyslexia.
“To tell you the truth, dyslexia’s almost a gift,” says Notley, who has a mild form of the learning disability that affects written and spoken language. “The way a dyslexic generally thinks is a lot more in a visual environment, which is why you get the reversal in the letters and that kind of stuff.
“It allows you to envisage what you’re thinking very clearly and all of it transcends into the lyrics because before you write anything you have to imagine it and paint a picture for the listener. I guess that’s why I’ve always been passionate about the art side and the visual landscape of the group, and being involved in the video clips and the way we’re represented visually.”
Immigrating to Australia from the US as a 13-year-old in the early ‘90s, Notley brought with him a head full of American urban sounds. He found a sympathetic ear in his new school’s only other hip hop fan, McKinnon. They bonded and later met Izm, together forming the group based heavily on a mutual passion for rapping and gaming.
“In terms of sound, the whole gaming culture goes hand in hand with hip hop,” insists Notley whose track ‘Field of Dreams’ recently appeared on the boxing video game ‘Fight Night Round 4’. “Hip hop does that with a few cultures, whether it’s skateboarding or graffiti or extreme sports – they all tie in really well because hip hop’s a sample-based culture and a medium that draws on all types of recorded history from different genres.”
Recorded in Melbourne and released last year, the broad spectrum of sound that is the trio’s ARIA-nominated third album, ‘Flying Colours’ has certainly galvanised fans from across the musical divide.
“If there’s an overall theme or ideal to the album, it’s almost like there isn’t one,” offers Notley, a distant American twang in his voice. “We wanted to keep a lot of variety there in terms of production, both musically and lyrically, to suit different moods and we wanted the music to reflect that – different vibes for different times. It’s allowed us to feel good about the various different expressions that we’ve created and to be able to touch other people and use our music for worthwhile causes.”
Led by five singles, the album’s predominantly feel-good fusion of broad beats and rhymes has managed to etch Bliss N Eso into Australian pop culture’s consciousness, exposing them to mass audiences this year on Rove and at the Sound Relief concert.
“There’s no doubt the last 12 months have been the biggest growth in the group over our whole career,” enthuses Notley. “It’s been a helluva good run and we’re stoked.”
Catapulting the band from clubby cult act to arena headliner, the success of ‘Flying Colours’ means this month’s national tour will see a beefed-up stage production as the band incorporates a VJ and extra lighting into the live shows.
“The last venue we played in Melbourne was to 900 people at the Prince of Wales and this time it’s 5000 at Festival Hall - and there’s two of them! We’re just lucky that people are diggin’ the sounds - it’s exciting for us.”